WiP 2 (2018)

Continuing from the previous post


Some time later, the dishes scoured by a small bit of summoning wizardry, the tent’s light dimmed and Alaric settled himself in his sleeping bag.  He lay on his back for a while, staring at the nylon ceiling and listening to the rain drum on the outer cover.  His mind wandered, tracing imaginary passages and caverns beneath the ground, an ancient temple complex turned hiding place that had been buried by millennia of sediment and detritus.

The tunnels, the entire facility, thrummed and throbbed with a low, headache inducing bass hum.

Alaric sat up.

The ancient halls weren’t humming, that had been a dream.

But, he was awake and the low, barely audible, thrumming bass was still there.

He scrambled, disentangling himself from his sleeping bag.

As he fumbled to unzip the tent flap, his right thumb rubbed across the bone ring he wore on that side.  Good, Alaric thought, there was a fair amount of energy in his personal stores and device.

The sound grew marginally louder once he was outside.

The fire had burned out some time ago.  The sun was rising over the rim of the stone circle, stretching rosy tendrils from the east.

Looking around, he counted at least twelve eldren surrounding the ring. Their gold-green skin nearly blended into the foliage where they stood on the edge of the clearing.  He slowly realized the bass hum came from the humanoid creatures, as their bodies gently swayed with the rhythm, vine-like head tendrils swinging in time.  He wasn’t sure if they were capable of speech, in fact Alaric doubted if any sorcerer on the Island had ever seen more than one or two eldren at a time before.  They rarely left the woods of their treefolk creators.

Sorcerer and eldren stood and stared at each other for several minutes.

He felt the pressure starting to build over his right eye when the clearing abruptly went silent.

Even the birds and rustle of the squirrels and breeze in the trees stopped.

A barely audible groan escaped Alaric’s lips.

Shite.

The eldren faded back into the trees as another figure appeared.

It didn’t so much step or glide as simply move.

Treefolk.

He hadn’t seen one since a trip to the Grove of Dodona on the Island, when he had still been learning wizardry.  Mostly, they kept to themselves and Island’s other residents left them alone.  Sorcerers usually just saw them once, when they studied the species, magical history, and the Island’s history as kids.

This one had to be close to ten feet tall, its body a bizarre hybrid of plant and animal parts.  The stories said that the first treefolk had once been human, earth sorcerers like himself.  But, they pushed the sorcery too far and transformed.  Now, they’d left humanity behind.  No one was quite certain how much humanity was still in them, enough to communicate certainly, but perhaps not enough to truly understand.

It stopped a few yards from the woods.

Alaric got the feeling that even that distance was difficult for it.

After a few heartbeats, the treefolk spoke, its voice gravelly with lack of use.

“This place . . . accursed . . . danger . . . leave . . . old magic . . .”

Alaric nodded, “Old magic.  That’s why I’m here, to study . . . to learn.  I haven’t seen any curses.”

“Accursed . . . danger . . . leave.”

“Do you mean dragon magic?  Is this an ancient dragon place?  Or . . . death sorcery?”

“Yeeees.”

“Yes, what?  Dragon or death?  Is it inhabited or abandoned?”

Without an answer, the treefolk backed into the woods.  In seconds, it had vanished from sight, joining its eldren minions.

Well, then.

Alaric shook his head.  The treefolk were odd, always had been, from what he’d heard.  Very few communicated well with humans anymore.  And they’d left any sorcery they’d had far behind when they changed, a trade for other powers.  It was said that they were capable of wizardry, like everyone else.  It was possible that it sensed dragon magic, which no one really understood anymore.  On the other hand, if it had sensed death sorcery . . . that was a whole other issue.

It warranted further study, anyway.

But, first, breakfast.

By the time he got the fire back up, ate some rehydrated eggs, and cleaned up, the sun had risen enough over the edge of the stones to illuminate the whole ring.  Alaric left his tent up and started pacing around the circle.  He let his vision shift, to see magical auras.  His boots stood outside the tent, the contact between bare feet and the earth letting him recharge a bit of magical energy.  The process would go faster if he stripped off and stayed still, meditating, but there was work to do.

If there were any auras, though, they were too faint to see by normal means.

The hard way, then, he decided.

After nearly an even score of circuits, he sat on the ground a few feet from the central stone, tugging on his boots.

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Work in Progress

Just a little, unedited, scene I’ve been toying with


Scene—Outside Ruins (2018)

There had always been rumors, ever since the end of the Dragon War.  People started saying that some had survived, uncontained, within moments of the war’s end.  Everyone thought the stories were the delusional ravings of paranoids.  Everyone knew the weakest dragons had been slain in the war, and the strongest, the ones no one could kill, were imprisoned in an eternal sleep.

They all said the stories that some had survived, free, were flights of darkest fancy.

They all claimed that every site occupied by the dragon-lords had been located and destroyed.  The Houses and the guardians had books and maps showing every such location around the world.

Yet, here he stood a few yards away from ruins that did not appear on any of the maps possessed by the Houses or the guardians of the Dragon Caves.

Well, Alaric had to admit, it was the ruins of a human religious site.

He could see the worn, ragged, roughly phallic stone in the center standing on three semi-concentric circles of stone blocks.  Around it stood a ring of closely packed standing dark granite stones topped with matching lintel stones.  They were so tight that they formed a wall, pierced in four places by openings in the cardinal directions.  The lintels rose and fell as their standing stones ranged from nearly his own height to twice that, apparently at random.  A low earthwork encircled the entire site, behind him.  Lichens and stubby grass covered everything inside the circles.

Honestly, Alaric thought, it wouldn’t be unusual or out of place in most of northern Europe.  The grey sky and constant drizzle would be perfectly in line with parts of the UK too.

But, he was standing in an unnamed rainforest, in the mountains, almost exactly on the border between Washington and British Columbia.  And the site, according to his sources and a few basic detection spells, was pre-Columbian.  In fact, if he’d done the spells right, the site was older than the mundanes thought humans had been on the continent.

Alaric was certain that, despite appearances, one of the alcoves or possibly one of the ring steps around the central stone would recede.  If his research was correct, it would lead into the ground beneath the site.  The stories said that, in the last days of the war, a number of the strongest dragon-lords built hidden complexes in which to hide, in sleep or hibernation, and escape his ancestors.

Shifting the pack that rode heavy on his shoulders, Alaric strode toward the nearest arch.  His booted feet whispered over the low grass as his eyes roamed, trying to take in every possible detail.  Soon, he was passing under the lintel stone.  He paused a few moments to study the arch, ancient, massive stones planted upright in the ground with a third laid across the top.  As he expected, no mortar or other means of connecting them.  The ancient humans had relied solely on the weight of the stones to keep the structure in place.  The whole arch took three steps to pass through, then Alaric found himself within the grounds.

He looked around, confirming what he’d thought and seen from beyond the ring.

Seen closer, none of the alcove seemed deep enough to conceal stairs or other means of descent.  The vaguely phallic plinth appeared the more likely means of accessing any hidden complexes.  To be safe, Alaric walked the ring, looking into each of the five or six alcoves he could see.  He spared a glance at the moss sheathed conifers that towered over the site, and the weak sunlight that filtered through the overcast sky.

A vague sense for the weather suggested that the drizzle would get stronger before it abated.  Deciphering a combination on the plinth could take hours, possibly days . . . while reasonably dry.

He nodded to himself, “It’s sat for millennia, what’s another half day and night?”

His only answer came from a couple crows.

“Right,” Alaric smiled, aware of talking to himself.  “Shelter and warmth it is.”

He shrugged the pack off his shoulders and undid the straps holding a tent to the bottom of the frame.  The pack leaned against one of the arch stones while Alaric waved a hand.  The tent began pitching itself as its owner left the ring in search of firewood.

It only took a few minutes before Alaric shook his head.  Calling the deadfall “damp” would be a serious understatement.  Most of it was waterlogged at best.  With no other options, he gathered what he could and sent it floating along in a pile a few inches off the ground behind him.

An hour later, he was sitting in his dry tent, his pack laid on the floor next to him.  A modest fire was going a safe distance from the fabric, helped along by a tiny bit of wizardry, and a pile of fallen branches was drying nearby.  He’d rigged up a lean-to out of a tarp to at least attempt to keep the firewood slightly dryer.  The scent of a re-hydrated soup wafted into the tent from its small tin pan next to the fire.

Alaric pulled the pan off its hot rock and mostly closed the tent flap just as the drizzle began to be interspersed with fat drops of real rain.

As the light fell, the sorcerer unconsciously created a simple, fist sized ball of light.  The basic spell was familiar to all beginning wizards, one of the first things they learned to do.  He sent it to float near the apex of the tent while he ate and read through some notes he’d spread out on his pack.